Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Composing a Good Online Help Query

There are many resources available for genealogists today to post questions to online communities and most are filled with a good number of experienced people willing to help. Older communities, while not used as often, include message boards such as the ones at Rootsweb. Rootsweb boards include hundreds of different subjects from boards about specific surnames to countries, states, counties and other localities around the world. Facebook pages are easily the most used online genealogical communities.
These range from groups researching certain ethnicities, regions, countries, states, counties, cities, DNA haplogroups etc. The list is seemingly endless. Go to Facebook and do a search for the area you need help with or try Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness if you can't narrow your question down to a certain area. If they can't help you, they'll likely point you to a group that can.

So, you've found the online community. Just post your question, right? Okay, here's a fictional example that will illustrate problems I've seen with online questions.

Title: Miller
Message: Can anyone help me find my Miller family?
So what's wrong with this question? It's the question you need answered, right? That may be, but there's no way anyone would know how to answer it. The first response is definitely going to be asking for specifics, so why not just provide the specifics up front? In addition, you'll notice the question had a title. Some message boards, such as those on Rootsweb, ask you to fill in a subject line or title to your post. You need to be a bit specific when composing this also. If you're already on a Miller message board, why would your subject line be "Miller"? Of course it's about a Miller family or you wouldn't be posting there. Provide a bit of information to narrow down who might be able to help you. This way those who wouldn't be able to help anyway won't waste their valuable time reading something they can't help with.

Here's another example I posted several years ago:

Title: Millers in New York

Message: Looking for anyone with information about this Miller family in New York. I have information about 5 siblings born from around 1852 through around 1870. Their last name was originally Mueller. It was changed to Miller somewhere along the line. Here are their names and what I know about them:
Gottlieb (William) Miller
Annie Miller - married a Quenzer. Family owned a dry cleaning business in New York
Sophie Miller - born around 1868. Married a Schmalzl
Karl (Charles) Miller - born 1852 in Germany. Married a Bixenman. I know about his descendants. He was my great-grandfather.
Ricka (Rika) Miller - married a Susenberger
Another brother - Don't know his name or anything about him.
This title had a bit more information. Anyone that wants to help find someone's Miller family but has no knowledge or experience with New York families or records could skip right by. Millers in New York is still a bit general. A better title for this post may have included Dry Cleaning as this was the occupation of several family members there, although I didn't know it truly was the specialty of the entire family. In the message body, I included as much information as I had about the family. Include as much as you have unless you have a massive amount. If I had a huge family story and wanted to make it available to those I was asking, I'd post it on my blog or other web site, then include pertinent details in my question along with a link to the more thorough post.

Information that you should always include if you have it:
  • Full name of any family members you know along with who they may have married
  • Birth, marriage and death dates you know. If you don't know specific dates, at least give a timeframe, such as "1870-1890".
  • Occupations
  • Where the family may have moved to or from.
  • A generation or two of known descendants

While researching your brick walls, don't forget about online genealogy communities. They exist to provide help to those that need it. Just be sure to compose your question in a way that provides the necessary information to those that may be able to help and not waste the time they could be spending helping someone that is providing the information necessary to start searching.


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